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Australian Pension Fund Settles ‘Groundbreaking’ Claim on Climate Risk Assessment

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An Australian retirement fund worth A$57 billion has reached an out-of-court settlement in a lawsuit launched by a member who accused it of jeopardizing his interests by failing to take seriously the climate risk exposure of its investments.

The huge, two-million-member Retail Employees Superannuation Trust committed, as part of the settlement, “to disclose its full portfolio holdings, conduct climate scenario analysis to inform its investment strategy, and advocate for the companies it invests in to comply with the goals of the Paris Agreement,” The Guardian reports [1].

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Using language that is very much not business-as-usual, the Trust also issued a statement that describes the climate crisis as a “material, direct, and current financial risk to the superannuation fund across many risk categories, including investment, market, reputational, strategic, governance, and third-party risks.”

Mark McVeigh, the plaintiff in the case, described the settlement as a “groundbreaking recognition” of both the economic and social risks posed by the climate crisis. The 25-year-old, who launched his suit against the fund in 2018, told The Guardian he hoped other pension funds would soon follow suit: “With almost $3 trillion under management, [the industry] has the potential to make or break our climate response.”

According to McVeigh’s lawyer, David Barnden of Equity Generation Lawyers, the implications of the case “are far-reaching for investors and for the climate.” He told The Guardian the settlement has made clear that “the buck stops with board members, and managing climate risk cannot be delegated away.”

The Guardian says Barnden is also representing a 23-year-old university student who is taking Australia’s climate-denying Scott Morrison government to court for its failure to disclose to investors the climate risks embedded in sovereign bonds. The lawyer is also “running a separate class action on behalf of young people from across the world that is trying to stop an extension of Whitehaven’s Vickery coal mine in northwest New South Wales.”